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Hundreds of congregations mark 40th Earth Day

Many Unitarian Universalists focused on ‘ethical eating.’
By Donald E. Skinner
5.3.10

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Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth

Rowan Van Ness, program associate of the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, and Kelsey Livingston, a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C., attended an Earth Day Climate Rally on the National Mall on Sunday, April 25. Van Ness estimated that 60 UUs from ten area congregations participated. (Courtesy Rowan Van Ness)

From working with farmworkers in Florida to teaching about a river in Minnesota, hundreds of Unitarian Universalist congregations marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in April.

Around 150 congregations shared their plans with the UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE), a UU environmental organization affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Many others also held events, said Rowan Van Ness, program associate for environmental justice with UUMFE.

“I’m impressed with the depth of the activity this year and thrilled with the number of events,” Van Ness said. “Not only are congregations doing one-time events, but they’re engaging in longer commitments and getting involved in their communities.”

UUs are veterans when it comes to Earth Day. We were there at the beginning. The April 15, 1970, issue of Unitarian Universalist World noted that in the run-up to the first Earth Day that spring, UUs in Santa Barbara, Calif., were working to stop offshore oil drilling, little more than a year after a devastating spill fouled miles of beaches. Members of the Mt. Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek, Calif., planted 2,600 trees on its 13-acre property. (Some planters came dressed in “symbolic forest costumes as Druids or as Robin Hood and his Merry Men,” according to the World.) Members of the Covina Valley Unitarian Church in Covina, Calif., opened a shop named “Ark Two” to disseminate materials on the environment and peace.

This year, although Earth Day was April 22, congregations chose various days in the month for their activities. Farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers spoke during the Earth Day Sunday service at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando, Fla., in March; members marched April 18 with the farmworkers, who were lobbying a grocery chain to pay more for tomatoes and to buy only from growers who provided acceptable working conditions.

The UU Fellowship of Mankato, Minn., organized a group of speakers for a forum on Earth Day about the Minnesota River, which flows through Mankato. They brought together a geologist, water resource experts, and two storytellers who live on the river.

“We drew about 150 people,” said Tricia Nienow, chair of adult programming for the fellowship. “It was very well received. We’re thinking about doing this program again.”

Members of the Allen Avenue UU Church in Portland, Maine, which is working to reduce the use of nonreusable shopping bags across Maine, collected 90 bags of groceries and brought them to church April 25 for a food pantry. The food was put in cloth bags so the pantry could give them out to patrons. “Our goal is to reduce the use of plastic and paper bags by a third,” said Sally Breen, a member of the congregation’s Green Earth committee.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern, N.Y., spent a morning cleaning up trash from local wetlands, including a portion that flows through Udderly Fresh Farms, one of the few remaining local dairy farms that sells milk nearby. The congregation will follow up with a focus on dairy production issues.

The UU Fellowship of Los Gatos, Calif., celebrated Earth Day as an “Action Sunday” on April 18. Participants could choose to join in a worship service focused on the Earth, participate in a discussion about ethical eating, help plant a community garden, or view a film on green building practices. “We had four excellent opportunities for people to engage in honoring Earth, and it was a wonderful way to worship together,” said the Rev. Victoria Ingram.

UUs, including many from All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C., attended an Earth Day Climate Rally on the National Mall, April 25. More than half of the congregations that listed their events with the UUMFE focused their Earth Day happenings around “ethical eating,” the congregational study/action issue that was chosen by delegates to the UUA’s General Assembly in 2008 for three years of study. Many are participating in the 40/40/40 campaign, which invites congregations to gather 40 people who agree to make big and small lifestyle changes for 40 days on behalf of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Van Ness said more than 1,600 UUs are participating in 40/40/40.

Participants in 40/40/40 are doing everything from giving up sodas for 40 days to eating lower on the food chain. The campaign ends May 27.

Unitarian Universalists’ deep affection for Earth Day—it could almost be considered part of our liturgical calendar—comes in part from our Seventh Principle, which calls for “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

The UU Ministry for Earth collaborated with several other UU organizations and staff groups to create and promote Earth Day materials with a focus on ethical eating, including the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness staff and the Washington Office for Advocacy, the Ethical Eating Core Team, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the UUA Bookstore, and the Green Sanctuary program.


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